Mark Levine: Nanã




Mark Levine (piano)


Off & On: The Music of Moacir Santos (Left Coast Clave 004)

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Mark Levine (piano), John Wiitala (bass),

Marry Fettig (flute), Michael Spiro (percussion), Paul van Wageningen (drums)


Composed by Moacir Santos


Recorded: Berkeley, April 13-15, 2009


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Mark Levine wrote the book on jazz piano. Literally. (Check it out here, if you're interested.) Despite Levine's high profile as author of a bestselling method book, few outside of the San Francisco area enjoy the opportunity of hearing what this artist can do at the piano. Levine's playing has always been smart without becoming cerebral, respectful of the tradition but not a slave to it. On his latest CD he explores the music of Brazilian composer Moacir Santos, who passed away at 80 three years before the release of this tribute album, and whose career spanned soundtracks, sax-playing, songwriting and schooling artists such as Oscar Castro-Neves, Nara Leao, Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal.

This song, originally called “Coisa No. 5,” has been recorded by dozens of later Brazilian artists, from Sergio Mendes to Deodato, but the performance here reaches beyond the traditional sounds of Rio and embraces Afro-Cuban currents as well. The band plays with spirit, and manages to create a rhythmic pulse that is both hot and light—not an easy combination—with Fettig's contribution on flute standing out as especially noteworthy. Levine, for his part, has been showing off his Latin jazz skills at least since his days with Moacir Santos himself and in Cal Tjader's band. In fact, this track reminds me of something the latter bandleader would have wanted to feature with his own ensemble. Even back in the days of Señor Tjader, West Coast Latin jazz bands were proving that they have their own fresh spin on the idiom, and this release is a clear case in point.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia


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